Never Normal Newsletter

Who are the mentors I can model?

Over the last few weeks I’ve shared some thoughts on the New American Dream, Building a Personal Monopoly, and What I’m Working On.

Anytime you’re trying to accomplish an ambitious goal, especially one that’s new and different from anything you’ve done before, it’s worth asking:

Who are the mentors I can model?

The goal is not to copy anyone else, but to learn from them.

In other words, Who’s already done the thing I want to do? Who can I look to for inspiration, or ask for advice?

In Polywork, Personal Brands, and Jobs of the Future, I mentioned Ali Abdaal as my go to example of someone who has built a strong personal brand and a thriving business by sharing his ideas and creative work online.

Let’s look at a few more and see what we can learn from them:

Jonathan Stark

Jonathan Stark is far from famous, but he’s made quite an impact in his little corner of the world. He was one of the first people who opened my eyes to a better way of working and running a business.

A former software developer, he realized that billing by the hour for project work makes no sense (even though that’s what almost everyone does by default).

So he set out on a mission to “rid the world of hourly billing”.

How’s that for esoteric?

(Is anyone else even trying to compete with him?)

Free content:

What I love about Jonathan’s work is that, like those old hair club for men ads (“I’m not only the hair club president, I’m also a client…”), you can see him putting his own advice to work in his business.

He went from developing FileMakerPro applications and mobile websites to writing and “teaching independent professionals how to make more money without working more hours.”

Jonathan has two excellent podcasts, and he writes a daily email newsletter (a practice he strongly recommends). He onboards new subscribers with a free email course that covers the basics.

Jonathan and I discussed How to Make More Money, Have Happier Clients, and Go from Surviving to Thriving as a Freelancer on my Never Normal podcast last year:


They say that “the riches are in the niches” online, and Jonathan is a great example.

By creating so much content on such a narrow topic, he is constantly building and demonstrating his expertise.

And the fact that his expertise centers around “how you can make more money” means that it’s obviously valuable, especially for people in a lucrative, growing industry, like software development.Side note – this is something I’ve learned first hand in my own business: companies have an unlimited budget for things that will net them more profit.

His four-month private coaching program costs $25,000.00. A one-off, one-on-one call costs $1,000.

He also offers a range of books, courses, and webinars for $49 – $749, and a group coaching program that costs $99/month.

David Perell

I’ve referenced David quite a few times already. He’s the one who introduced me to the idea of a personal monopoly.

David’s positioned himself as “The Writing Guy”.

I enjoy his writing, but I’m even more impressed by his business. It’s a stellar example of what’s possible these days, and the kind of business I’m working to build myself.

Free content:

David’s known for the long-form essays he writes and shares on his website (like Peter Thiel’s Religion and What the Hell is Going On).

He’s also pretty prolific on Twitter, where he has over 220,000 followers. I suspect that’s where most people find David first, before going on to join his email list, listen to his NorthStar podcast, or watch his YouTube videos.

That sounds like a lot of stuff, and it is, but…

David’s very focused. He’s not making videos about classic cars and podcasts about bitcoin. All of the content he creates is related to writing, thinking, and the creative process.

David’s flagship essays take him months to write. But he’s not the prototypical writer that disappears into a cabin in the woods to write.

David works more like a standup comedian — testing out his material on small stages (tweets, conversations) before filming the HBO special (a long form essay).


Speaking of focused, David only sells one thing: Write of Passage. That’s his live, cohort-based, online course that promises to help you “Accelerate Your Career by Writing Online”.

And it’s not cheap.

He charges $4,000 for the “Essential” version and $7,000 for the “Premium” version. He runs 2-3 cohorts per year (the next one is starting on Sep 8), each with a few hundred students.If you’re like my mom, then you’re already doing the math in your head and realizing that holy #@$# that’s something like $2,000,000 / year in revenue!Not bad at all.

The thing I love most about David’s business is how nicely the pieces all fit and work together, like a machine.

Constantly learning and working on improving his craft as a writer and creative professional gives him lots of topics for his YouTube videos and lessons to include in his online course.

He shares his ideas on Twitter, which helps him to build his audience and to figure out which ideas they’re most interested in.

The more successful and widely shared his essays are, and the more successful his students (like Packy McCormick) are, the more credibility he gains as a person who can teach others to write online (and the more he can charge for doing it).

The more money his course makes, the more he can invest in hiring other people to do things like admin, marketing, customer service, etc.

That frees up more time for writing and teaching writing. Which means he continues to get better at both. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

That’s all for this week. More soon!

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I write occasional emails to share what I’m thinking, learning, and doing. It’s all related to the idea of breaking free from the “default plan” in life.

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